As predicted by the Met Office, we had Northerly gales and snow over Easter weekend. My poor daffodils didn’t know what had hit them! Thankfully, the cold blast didn’t last too long though and we have had some lovely sunny, and calm days during April.

Yesnaby & Hoy
View of Hoy from Yesnaby

Things are looking better now for the future and the coming season, with news that tourism has started to re-open from the 26th April. I have spent time reviewing my business, and the walks that I offer, and I now have a plan in place for restarting my walks. I will re-open on Monday 17th May, and I still intend to keep groups to one family/household/social bubble for this year. It is hoped that Orkney will be quite busy with visitors so my plan is to avoid the major hotspots and go “off the beaten track” to escape the crowds.

There has been lots of admin work to do – updating my website and also the other platforms I use such as VisitScotland, Google and Facebook. Once the majority of the admin work is done, then I can start doing the recces for each walk, which is the more fun side for me.

Marsh Marigolds
Marsh Marigolds

Walks

I have had lots of lovely walks this month, taking advantage of the nice weather to get out and about. We had a walk at Yesnaby while there was still a bit of snow on the ground. There were lots of Fulmars on the cliffs, and waders such as Lapwings, Golden Plovers, Oystercatchers and Curlews. On the way back, my partner spotted a rare beetle Chrysolina latecincta.

Chrysolina latecincta
Chrysolina latecincta, Yesnaby

It is only found in 3 places in Scotland – Loch Etive in Argyll, Unst in Shetland and Yesnaby here in Orkney. We were super-chuffed to see it and it was a lifer for us both. Our other highlight that afternoon, was a male Wheatear – our first of the year.

Wheatear
Wheatear

With the nights getting lighter, it is great to be able to get out for some evening walks. The light is always a bit softer, it’s peaceful, less people but with the sights and sounds of nature around. I am offering Evening Wildlife walks this summer, check out my website for more information on these.

Gyre Woods
Evening light, Gyre Woods

In addition to my usual walks this month, I have taken part in some vole survey training with the Orkney Native Wildlife Project. Due to Covid, it has been 2 years since I last did a Vole Survey, so some initial training was provided to remind us of the techniques.

We are allocated a survey site with 2 transects, and each transect has 25 points, so 50 points in total. We are given a GPS, a quadrat and the survey sheet to record what we see. At each of the points, we check for habitat, vegetation, vegetation height, % of green, bare ground or litter, and for any signs of vole activity which includes tunnels/runs, droppings and clippings. Let me tell you, it is very exciting finding vole poo!

Vole Droppings
Vole droppings

The survey site which I have been given, is up in the Scorradale hills, which I do with a friend. Although, it is a very beautiful area, it was very rough walking underfoot and quite tiring but well worth the effort, and the views are stunning!

Scorradale Hills
Scorradale Hills

I also went along to my partner’s vole training day which took place at Mull Head – one of my favourite coastal areas to walk, and a walk that I offer on my website. The walking in this area was much easier than at Scorradale, but with equally stunning views. We found lots of evidence of voles here, as there were tunnels/runs along the fence lines with clippings and droppings to be found. It was also on this day that we saw our 1st Sand Martin & Arctic Skua of the year.

Here are a few photos of me in action, surveying for Orkney Voles.

Wildlife

There has been lots of wildlife to see this month, as the wildflowers recovered from the Arctic blast at the start of the month and the Spring/Summer migrants start to appear.

It is still a very yellow time of year, with Dandlions, Marsh Marigolds, Primroses, Lesser Celandine and Coltsfoot all in flower, but there are other flowers starting to appear now. Out at Mull Head, we saw a Dog Violet, buds on the Thrift and a Red Campion in bud.

Dog Violet

There have been a few year firsts this month as the summer migrants start to appear – Bonxies (Great Skua), Arctic Skua, Wheatear, Sand Martin, Swallow, Short-eared Owl, Little Terns and Sandwich Terns. It was also lovely to hear and see my first Willow Warblers of the year while out on an evening walk to my local patch of woodland.

Willow Warbler
Willow Warbler

I was lucky to spot a male Blackcap in my garden one day, so I rushed to put out some apples for him but he chose to ignore the apples, and was busy feeding on insects in the willow trees. It’s such a treat for me to have a Blackcap in my garden, but unfortunately he wasn’t very keen on having his photo taken!

Male Blackcap hiding in the willows
Male Blackcap hiding in the willows

We were also excited to spot a Short-eared Owl from the dining room window one evening, it was such a treat to watch it especially as it has been a few years since I’ve seen one locally.

We went on a local twitch as a Great White Egret had been found near Dounby, we had quite distant views of it, but we did also managed to twitch a Common Crane at the same time which had been spotted by another birder – result!

As we move into May, we look forward to warmer weather, and longer days to get out and about wildlife watching and walking. Keep an eye on my Facebook page and website for updates and changes to the walks on offer this year.

I will leave you with this Woolly Bear (aka Garden Tiger Moth) caterpillar.

Woolly Bear
Woolly Bear